Last year I spent a lot of garden dollars and energy on ways to reduce maintenance in the garden. I added lots of hardy trees and shrubs, more bulbs but fewer perennials. At Jeff Epping's recent talk about lower maintenance in mixed border, he pointed out that annuals and potted plants are among the highest maintenance parts of the garden. At Olbrich they have stunning containers — like this pot of annuals sitting in a bed of annuals!
I love this tender succulent in a pot set in a garden bed. But we've gone the opposite route with containers in our garden.
We've left them empty of anything that needs attention. For a few years I put a piece of chicken wire in the opening of this pot and filled it with all the pine cones I picked up in the garden. Now that we've lost two of the three Austrian pines in that corner of the garden, I just leave the pot empty. A big statement with no effort — other that wheeling the pot up there in the spring from its winter storage area.
This low bowl has sat in many locations in the garden; sometimes empty and sometimes filled with water for the birds. An easy water feature and another painless way to take up garden space without sacrificing color or drama.
Ceramic pots make elegant statements in the garden and add welcome contrast to any planting. Almost all the big pots we own were purchased to be put out in the garden.
At his talk, Jeff Epping pointed out that shrubs take up garden space and that is one way to lower the level of maintenance in your garden. We've used that concept and planted lots of shrubs, especially yew and box, But we've also taken that idea one step further: using stone as focal points. They take up space and never need pruning. They provide a strong contrast no matter what plants you place near them. Once they grow a bit of lichen and moss they also give a garden a sense of age.
In recent years we've also replaced most of our wood chip paths with gravel, which rarely needs more than a bit of topping off perhaps every five years or so. In fact, the bark in the above photo has been replaced with dark gray gravel. We've also put in stone paths like the one below that has required little attention in the many years its been in place.
Later this spring we're replacing the grassy slope that runs the length of our driveway with a stone wall. Though we'll make sure to leave a few planting spaces, this is not going to be a rock garden. That would be adding a whole new garden to develop and take care of — which rather defeats the use of stone as a lower maintenance tactic.